LIFE LESSONS FROM A LOVE OF TRAVEL

Five weeks, across five continents awaits me. For some, a sense of fear may arise but something within me turns that fear of the frenetic into the excitement of the opportunity. In switching my focus to the positive of the multitude of people, places and experiences ahead, I am quickly reminded of the absolute joy of travel – the journey into the unknown, the adventure that invariably turns trepidation into true lasting memories.

To some it may sound cliché to talk about how travel shapes us, how it changes our lives. The abundance of books and films of a certain genre some years back may not have been appreciated by all, but they certainly illustrated the point of how travel can transform our lives. And it truly can –travel will make a positive impact on the lives of the people in the destinations we visit, in the rural businesses we engage with on our holidays, transformative travel changes us, the travellers, in all manner of positive ways.

I always like to remind those around me that nobody goes on holiday to have a bad time. More recently, in reading stories of people feeling stressed about taking leave, about the planning involved, in trying to “make time” to even plan a break. it feels as though travel is becoming almost a burden for some. Curious to understand these emotions and what drives us to travel and the impact it has, Trafalgar recently commissioned some independent research. In reading the findings, focused around the decision making and where, with whom and why, it led me to revisit my own personal transformative travel journey and experiences, which drew me to three main conclusions of how travel has shaped me.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

When I reflect on ‘when did it all begin?’, it is immediately clear that I first discovered my love of travel in my pre-teens, clearly a formative time that travel began to shape my life. My father had left South Africa, and I went “overseas” to visit him in London. To go abroad was to boldly venture beyond, as though the entire planet was a blank canvas to be easily engulfed by. With a combination of excitement and nervousness, I flew into the unknown, never imagining the enormous impact, an exceptionally positive domino effect, this one trip would have on my life.

To this day I vividly recall an entirely new world, one that struck me profoundly, inspiring a sense of wonder I could never have predicted. I went to my first live concert – Pink Floyd. Growing up in South Africa, this was a band name written on an album, heard on the radio. These voices had no presence beyond the airwaves. Suddenly I became part of a tribe, united by a love for music that we all knew by intimately, regardless of where we had come from geographically, economically, socially or culturally. Led by a group of incredible, iconic musicians, we all sang our hearts out, together, and then we all went our separate ways.

With each new experience I recognised the world was far greater than I ever envisaged, how other people lived their lives, and yet somehow, we were all connected. From then onwards I was driven to understand the value of everything in life, becoming grateful for all that I had and have, and the privilege to be able to explore beyond my world. Importantly, travel taught me early on to see, feel and learn from other places, other people, but to not judge, and to not compare. As said by a very dear friend: “desire what you have”, looking closely at what we see to understand just why it is because, unlike where I came from, life wasn’t always black or white.

With such a foundation, as I travelled further, I discovered that I began to change in so many ways, and always for the better. I still see this within myself and I see it in countless others as they travel, be it for business or pleasure, be it as a Trafalgar guest or as a guest of any of our other travel businesses, be they young or old, family or friends, coming from near or from far. We are the sum of our parts, united as a travel tribe.

With this in mind, my first finding was that travel richly and irreversibly broadens your perspective of the world and your place in it. By being open to directly experiencing different cultures, customs and communities, by learning about what makes different communities tick, sticking together as they work to create a more hopeful future, we are able to appreciate their experiences, appreciating the meaning and value of their lives in ours. Several years ago I visited Burma and met with children from a monastic school.  On the surface we seemingly had little in common, but their unconditional welcome and kindness of smiles connected us. Imagine my surprise to find some of the boys with bags embellished with the great Chelsea FC, donated by another kind travelling soul. A moment that has turned into a memory forever etched in my mind.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

The second finding that emanated from my own inner research was that through travel we have the opportunity to discover more about who we are simply by stepping outside of our comfort zone. To this day, I remain both fascinated and intimidated to step off a plane in a country that doesn’t speak my language and I don’t speak theirs. I’ve realized that those who don’t step outside of their comfort zone, those who choose to play safe and stay caught in the same place, lose the opportunity that will remain forever unknown. I love being able to become a sponge of the senses in a new place – tasting new foods, inhaling new scents, feeling new textures, hearing new accents and making new connections. I’m reminded of the assault on the senses that is a visit to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Was it hectic? Was it noisy? Was it confusing? Was it loud? Was I overwhelmed by the abundance of smells? A resounding yes to all. And how truly fabulous that was. Who knew I could be so involved and intrigued in discovering the myriad types of Turkish delight. The simplest of experiences often give the greatest of pleasures. The fun, the interaction and the negotiating of the bazaar experience – like nowhere else.

Something I feel we are all leaning towards, that of experiences being more precious than material possessions. Memories in travel live with me forever. As is often said, “Travel is the only thing that you pay for that leaves you feeling richer.” Through travel, I have come to understand memories are far more precious in life than anything material we may purchase.  From the sounds of being woken by elephants in the bush in Africa, to the first glimpse of glowing oranges at sunrise or sunset, the opportunity to immerse in such beauty is a true priceless gift.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

Through my travels I have discovered what makes me truly happy are the moments that make me feel most alive, it is where I find the people and places that bring out the best in me. In discovering the world, I have been able to discover myself – seeing the hardships of life for others and yet how some people are so utterly grateful for such simple things that bring their life meaning. There is no greater reward than the exchange of smiles with someone with whom you have no other form of communication. The old adage of it being easier to smile than frown has never rung so true than when I’m on my travels. By travelling we effect positive change on the economy and the lives of those there.

Finally, especially for those of us for whom travel is a daily part of our business lives, I encourage you to reset the inner compass of your travelling mind and heart. Develop a desire to explore – that deep down excitement, need, love to keep discovering. This is one of the healthiest addictions a human can possess, one that directly, dramatically, invaluably make us stronger, healthier, happier.

Wishing you all a life of wander-must. Carpe diem. Remember to always be joyous and thankful and enjoy the journey as you continue to travel to transform your life.

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